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network 06/12/2016 - 05:00PM

Classic Indigenous NFB docs now available for screenings in CP Network

Above: Image from NO ADDRESS by Alanis Obomsawin.

The Cinema Politica Network is thrilled to announce that we have added ten classic National Film Board of Canada (NFB) documentaries by two prolific Indigenous filmmakers—Loretta Todd and Alanis Obomsawin—to our catalogue. These films, produced over 20 years between the early 1980s to early 2000s, not only provide essential context for the Cinema Politica Network’s popular First Peoples First Screens series, but also serve as a powerful reminder that many of the environmental and legal challenges faced by Indigenous communities in Canada are ongoing.

Stills from KAINAYSSINI IMANISTAISIWA and FORGOTTEN WARRIORS by Loretta Todd

Loretta Todd’s films focus on the overlooked-but-ongoing history of Indigenous communities in Canada, with a special interest in the idea of continuity across generations as historicized communities. HANDS OF HISTORY follows the creative process of four prominent female First Nations artists as they establish their own continuities between traditional art styles and contemporary forms and aesthetics. One of the artists, Doreen Jensen, summarizes all of their distinct projects as an assertion and reclamation of Indigenous identities through the deeply connected triangle of “our work, our heritage, and our future.”

The assertion of the importance of cultural artefacts to communal identity is also at the heart of KAINAYSSINI IMANISTAISIWA: THE PEOPLE GO ON. In this film, Kainai Blood elders use the return of confiscated and stolen artworks to describe the close continuities between their ancient culture and the prairie landscape that supports it. These explicit connections between land, history, and colonialism takes on a very different tone in FORGOTTEN WARRIORS, a powerful film that reveals the discrepancies between how settler-descendent and indigenous soldiers were greeted by the Canadian government when they returned home at the end of the Second World War. Whereas white Canadians were offered the chance to purchase cheap land as a sign of gratitude for their combat service, Indigenous men who enlisted often returned from the war only to discover that the government had given away large tracts of their reserve land.

Whereas Todd’s films provoke poignant reflections on Indigenous cultural heritages, many of Obomsawin’s films shove the spectator directly into the frontlines of Mohawk and Mi’gmaq activist protests. No stranger to the idea of using documentary cinema to mobilize communities and inspire socio-political changes – Cinema Politica did, after all, name our most prestigious award after her—Obomsawin’s films are an important reminder that some treaties are only as enforceable as they are defendable.

Stills from INCIDENT AT RESTIGOUCHE and RICHARD CARDINAL by Alanis Obomsawin

Although Obomsawin’s renowned interpretation of the 1990 Mohawk standoff in Oka in KANEHSATAKE: 270 YEARS OF RESISTENCE is already a popular fixture in CP’s network, our locals will now have the opportunity to screen two more films from her Oka series: ROCKS AT WHISKEY TRENCH, which chronicles the violent public treatment of the Indigenous protestors who blocked Montreal’s Mercier Bridge during the Oka standoff; and, SPUDWRENCH, a doc that follows up with prolific Oka protestor Randy “Spudwrench” Horne years after the protest, while documenting the social and labour issues faced by many of his fellow Mohawk construction workers in Montreal. The experiences of First Nations citizens living in Montreal are further scrutinized in NO ADDRESS, Obomsawin’s intimate and unsettling look at both the material and cultural homelessness faced by Indigenous people as they attempt to adjust to urban life.  

Obomsawin’s films on Mi’kmaq activism are often spurred by moments when provincial and federal governments violate their treaties with Indigenous communities. INCIDENT AT RESTIGOUCHE and IS THE CROWN AT WAR WITH US? each explore different conflicts over fishing rights between Mi’kmaq communities in Quebec and New Brunswick and the respective local governments. Obomsawin’s most recent film about Mi’kmaq fishing conflicts, OUR NATIONHOOD from 2003, reveals a unique level of absurdity in settler government violations of First Nations treaties: at the same time as their traditional fishing rights were being challenged by industrial developers and government officials, the Listuguj Mi'kmaq received an award from the Canadian government for their excellent stewardship of their local water systems.

Rounding out the group of new Obomsawin films is RICHARD CARDINAL: CRY FROM A DIARY OF A MÉTIS CHILD, an intimate documentary that adapts the diary of a Métis teenager lost to suicide in order to tell the searing story of settler institutions that continuously left the child helpless and at the mercy of an uncaring system. This last film is the kind of documentary that should be celebrated for real impact, as foster care policies were changed in Alberta as a direct result of politicians seeing the film.

Cinema Politica is very honoured and proud to follow the release of First Peoples First Screens with another diverse and strong collection of feature-length films by prolific Indigenous women—the only difference is, this time they’re foundational.